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Opportunity and crime paper

Opportunity-security should be considered one of the main drivers of crime, according to a Home Office discussion paper. In other words, tackling crime is mostly about removing opportunity, whether by adding security or removing what’s creating crime, such as poor design of sites.

The paper suggests that offers the best explanation for trends in thefts of individual items and the growth in online activity means opportunities are likely to both change and increase in the near future – which makes the development of online security a key priority. The evidence seems less clear, though, that opportunity/security changes have been responsible for the rise and fall in crime in aggregate. The hypothesis is largely silent on why violence has fallen alongside theft.

And for acquisitive crime (such as theft of phones), the case that better security caused the crime drop rests on the largely untested assumption that car immobilisers also prevented or deterred thieves from committing other types of theft. Data suggest the opposite is equally likely; that as one thing becomes harder to steal, thieves switch to something else.

As successive product innovations come to market, from car stereos in the 1980s to smartphones, thefts are likely to rise with ownership, as the opportunity (number of potential victims) increases. Data also shows that many security devices have been successful in helping to reverse these trends. Car immobilisers helped drive down thefts of vehicles and more recently the IOS 7i phone operating system appears to have had a similar effect on phone thefts.

For the ten-page paper in full visit gov.uk.

The paper sums up that the propensity for acquisitive crime seems to have declined hugely from the mid-1990s; and yet crime opportunities are arguably more prevalent than ever. Even without considering the impact of the internet, more and more people are now carrying valuable items like smartphones on their person or in their handbags, meaning thieves do not even need to break into houses or cars to steal them. Yet recorded theft is less than half the level it was two decades ago.


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